Advanced Business Writing
Rules and Usage

Adjective Order

People who grow up in English-speaking homes learn certain rules of usage that are seldom taught in school. They are not taught because it isn't necessary: young students already know these rules of usage, even some complicated rules such as the rule for adjective ordering.


When we want to use two or more adjectives to describe a noun, the basic rule is this:

   1. Put details and facts next to the noun.
   2. Put opinion or quality in front of that.
   3. Put number or quantity in front of that.

Therefore, we should have the ordering:

Number ( Opinion ( Details noun ) )


five attractive red phones

This specific set of adjectives must go in that order; any other order doesn't sound quite right:

five attractive red phones
[sounds correct]

five red attractive phones
[almost sounds okay]

red attractive five phones
[sounds bizarre]


The last part of NOD, the Details, are descriptions that have an acceptable order all their own:

Size ( Age ( Shape ( Color ( Origin ( Material ( Purpose ( noun )))))))


small new square red Swiss ceramic emergency phones

All together, we could have:

five attractive small new square red Swiss ceramic emergency phones

Perhaps the memory aid can help: NOD–SAShCOMP

Note1: You may ask why didn't we put commas between the adjectives we lined up. The reason is these are cumulative adjectives: each adjective modifies everything to the right. Commas are used with coordinate adjectives, each of which modifies the noun individually. Example:

These are expensive, unnecessary phones.

Note2: You may find other recommended sequences for Details, such as:

Size ( Shape ( Condition ( Age ( Color ( Origin ( Material ( noun )))))))

Those who argue about the authority of their ordering hierarchy may use words like subsective, privative, and pseudo-cumulative. Nod and smile, and when it seems necessary, go ahead and pay attention. It may help. Or it may not.

Lesson: Adjective Order
Module: Rules and Usage
Course: Advanced Business Writing